Education must not aim merely at skills and knowledge to nurture humans to become good citizens of a certain country, as suggested by John Dewey. Moreover, education must not focus merely on teaching humans to be good at certain skills that will enable them to secure jobs and thus survive life. But, education must aim at educating humans to be true humans. J.J. Rousseau attempted to define what true human being is, but he failed to understand the basic theological foundation that humans fell into sin. Thus he only portrayed human being as naturally good and blamed society as the source of sin. Understanding the concept of Imago Dei is extremely important for laying the foundation of education. George Knight reminded his readers to capture the essence of our humanity as the image of God and thus to comprehend education. Education, therefore, must aim at educating humans to become true image of God. However, this task is not easy due to the fall. Bringing the broken Imago Dei back to become true Imago Dei is an uphill battle. But this is the task of true education. God instructed Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for His people, the twelve tribes of Israel, to be educated according to God’s way of life. Our Lord Jesus Christ instructed his disciples to educate His people in his teaching and commandment. And Jesus Christ is the true Imago Dei, in whom we are created. Thus the task of true education is to educate human being to be like Jesus Christ, the true Imago Dei, the Son of God.
The following three sections are my philosophy on Christian Education, my view on teaching/teacher, and contemporary issues.
Christian education is distinct from any other education because it is education that embraces Christian values. Christian education presupposes the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. The aim of the educational practice in Christian education must be directed toward God’s will for the whole creation. God’s will is for the entire creation to experience shalom. But we also know that the fullness of shalom is not going to be achieved until the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore when aiming at shalom, we also aim at the struggle for shalom. To aim at shalom humans need to learn how to live in God’s world. Therefore Christian education must also direct its course to educate for life. Not any life, but a certain kind of life as God wants humans to exercise. Here is where we look more closely at the Scripture for guidance and direction of what kind of life God intends for all of us.
Christian education does not merely teach values that are accepted universally, such as love, wisdom, goodness, justice, etc. But rather Christian education educates its entire community in particular, and witness to its surroundings as much as possible, and also testify to those impacted by the educational community in its broadest sense, about the one true God who is love, who is wise, who is good, who is just, and the fact that human beings are created in God’s image to reflect His glory on earth.
Therefore, Christian education is the kind of education that sets its course on the path to glorify God. And of course, when the entire educational community grows together to the maturity in Jesus Christ, the educational institution truly glorifies God. Christian educators are called to set the learning environment to assist the entire educational community to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The task of Christian education, then, is to provide the learning environment where the entire educational community may grow together in Jesus Christ, exercise the life as God wants it, that aims at shalom, for the sole purpose of glorifying God forever and ever.
A teacher is a person that leads, accompanies, and continuously supports his/her students for their growth and development as noble and skillful human beings in the world. Furthermore, a teacher is a person that leads his/her students in their journey to maturity in Jesus Christ – to become like Jesus, which is to become the image of God as God has designed them to be. A Teacher is absolutely much more than merely a bank of information. And a teacher is much more than an instructor who guides and directs students in the shaping of their skills and knowledge. A teacher is also a moral and spiritual model for the students. Therefore teachers’ spiritual maturity, moral integrity and sound values are very important because students look at them and learn from them. In short, a teacher must be a noble person who is skillful in teaching students the necessary skills and knowledge to live in the world, and more importantly a spiritual person who continuously grow in and to be like Jesus Christ in every way possible.
Personally my teaching aims at the betterment of humanity in the perspective of shalom. Thus I strive to create a learning environment that helps students think of how to use all their skills and knowledge to contribute to the effort of creating a better life, where justice and goodness is held up high. Therefore the teaching and learning process must not focus on the mastery of skills and knowledge only for the sake of it, but must focus on mastering the skills and knowledge so they can be used for improving human life and striving for shalom.
When students struggle in their learning, teachers should be there for the students. A good teacher struggles together with his/her students so that the students can achieve the learning goals successfully. A good teacher does not neglect his/her students’ needs, but instead he/she must attempt to discern how to respond wisely to the students’ needs.
A wise teacher is able to say the right word and do the right thing at the right time to the right person. Teachers’ criticism and pointers as well as their encouragement and guidance are very much needed by the students for their growth and development. But wise teachers are careful to understand each student so the criticism and pointers will not be considered humiliating or degrading and thus destroying the student’s self esteem and motivation to learn. In the same way, wise teachers are careful in giving guidance and encouragement in such a way that not crippling their students. The balance of criticism-pointer and encouragement-guidance is critical in the healthy growth of students.
Finally, a good teacher allows students to freely explore and discover their own interests, styles, life purpose, and limits. Students are also human beings that are innately creative and dignified beings. A good teacher gives students room to exercise their freedom responsibly. Teachers’ intervention must be discerned very cautiously so not to hamper students’ growth and development.
One of the most important challenges today is the fact that schooling mentality has got the mind of many Christians in the way they treat spiritual formation in the church. One of Christian Smith’s findings in Soul Searching and Soul in Transition shows this condition. Many Christians consider spiritual formation ends when they profess their faith. Profession of faith has become a graduation ritual from “the school of spiritual formation.” Spiritual formation is no longer considered to be lifelong, but something they can graduate from, just like school. This view sees that after the profession of faith, Christians are free to do whatever they want with the “diploma” of their Christian faith.
The idea Ivan Illich discusses in “Deschooling Society” might need to be heeded at some level. However, I’m not suggesting to destroy all schools in order to fix this problem. But the schooling mentality has become our culture today. This culture somehow dictates our way of life, even to the level of our spirituality. Christian formation must find a way to break through such schooling mentality and helps Christians understand the call of lifelong learning in order to be formed to be like Christ Jesus.
There are many other challenges in our contemporary world today that threatens the formation of our Christian faith. Gay movement for one. Extreme inclusivism that challenges the core identity of being Christian is another. Postmodern pedagogy that swings the pendulum too far to the point of subordinating cognitive domain under physical experience and feeling is also a growing challenge in Christian formation today. One of the implications of the postmodern pedagogy is that it threatens to diminish the sermon portion in a worship service.
All those challenges are to be answered and dealt with properly so Christians may grow to be like Christ according to the will of God.
Liberal Arts Education
All truth is God’s truth. When thinking about liberal arts education, “all truth is God’s truth” comes to mind immediately. When humans find truth out of anything in this world, such truth belongs to God. The reasoning is simple, Genesis 1:1 – God created the whole world. For me it is important to have our education presupposes the doctrine of creation. God created the entire universe, and thus all knowledge, skills, and arts belong to God. Avoiding liberal learning in Christian education just because such learning does not directly or explicitly speak of Jesus Christ betrays the doctrine of creation. In John 1 we find that the entire world is created in Jesus Christ. And so what we commonly call as secular actually belongs to Jesus Christ. It is true, however, that sin has depraved everything in this world. All knowledge, even theology is influenced by our depravity. But that doesn’t mean that everything becomes unusable. The fact that Jesus came into the world to reconcile the entire world to God brings redemption of all things possible. As Jesus’ agents in this world, Christian educators’ task is to redeem all knowledge and offer them back to God.
Arthur Holmes took it to the next level and said: “When liberal learning is offered to God, it becomes an act of worship.” Indeed it is an act of worship. As agents of Jesus Christ, we are sent into the world to reclaim “the land” belonging to God. When we offer it to God, we worship God. But liberal arts can’t be allowed to run by themselves. Allowing them to run solo would not glorify God in the end. Theology must be used as an integrating force to bring all knowledge and arts to their proper place, which is under the lordship of Christ. Holmes cited John Henry Newman and pointed out that “Liberal learning without theology lacks the wisdom that comes from an overall vision, a worldview that unifies all branches of learning and elevates them to the contemplation of God.” Since God is the God of all knowledge, therefore when we study God in Christian universities and colleges, we must not omit knowledge that we consider to be secular just because it does not explicitly speak of Jesus Christ. When we study God, it is important that we also study all other knowledge that is not scriptural in nature, but that is found in the general revelation. Thus, liberal arts education becomes necessary for Christian education.
Christian education by nature is holistic education. When Christian colleges and universities strive to educate their students to gain specific skills and knowledge necessary for their professional careers, liberal arts education must be in view. Moreover, liberal arts education not only is theologically and philosophically necessary, but also practically important. To have a broader mind and understanding of how all knowledge is actually connected to each other is very important. One of the failures of education that is built by industrial revolution is that it isolates a particular knowledge or skill or art from all the others. When I went through formal education in Indonesia, the education system there isolated each student within the confinement of each major being studied. Upon graduation I became a professional of one specific art but being ignorant of all the others. When the world suddenly changed and no longer in need of that art, practically all the students and graduates of that art suddenly became useless in the workplace. Secondly, creativity was severely limited to the specific art being study. This situation hinders the development of that art, and more importantly hinders the development of the whole person studying to be a professional of such art. Challenges in the world often, practically, are not clearly defined by specific art. But instead they are often found mixed of many arts. Thus even for practical reasons, liberal arts education is very important to meet the challenges in the real world.
For a higher reason, the development of the whole person is very critical in education. I believe it was Rousseau that pointed out the main call of education as educating humans to be humans and not merely educating them to be lawyers or doctors, etc. John Calvin showed in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that the most important knowledge that becomes the foundation of all knowledge is the knowledge of God and self. Now, if knowledge of God is foundational, then it is important to learn liberal arts, for without them our knowledge of God would be severely partial. Secondly, in order for true professionalism to be developed, one cannot merely study the dominant art in the profession he/she is pursuing. Isolating the art of the profession from all other arts would be a betrayal of the unity of all knowledge. Cross departmental dialogue would become impossible to do if professional knowledge is isolated from all others. This situation would diminish our capability to communicate with others, more specifically with those who have different professions. As a community, when we are isolated, our whole being suffers and we can’t grow properly.
Theologically, if the goal of education is for people to live the way of life that God wants them to live through the realization of God’s word, then it is important to educate people of the world where they live. The world is also created by God and through it God reveals himself – general revelation. So, Christian education can’t just focus on the word and neglect the study of the world. We need to learn both at the same time. The divorce of Christian faith and whatever is considered secular is a sad condition. Our world belongs to God, and so the divorce is a failure, a failure of realizing “the Lordship of Christ” (Kuyper). Liberal arts learning is an important vessel where the integration of God’s word and world is made possible.
All truth is God’s truth.